NEVERMORE: THE IMAGINARY LIFE AND MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF EDGAR ALLAN POE
(This is Jerry's review of the Catalyst Theatre production that played at the Arts Club in 2010.)
If there were an Olympic medal for style in Canadian theatre, Edmonton’s Catalyst would get the gold. Two years ago, the PuSh Festival brought the company here with its fabulous adaptation of Frankenstein, done (as I wrote in my January 2008 review of the show) in grotesque, harlequinesque style through a combination of narration and performance, mostly in rhymed song. Nevermore, their take on the life of Edgar Allan Poe, is done in the same style: written, directed and composed, as was Frankenstein, by Jonathan Christenson, with set , costumes and lighting imaginatively designed, as were Frankenstein’s, by Bretta Gerecke.
The material and presentation are also reminiscent of that other stylish Edmonton company, November Theatre, which brought us the grotesque Gothic cabaret The Black Rider, one of the best shows Vancouver has seen this decade. Poe’s literary output would seem naturally to lend itself to that kind of treatment. Nevermore actually ignores Poe’s work, except for a brief reference to “The Raven.” But the show finds ample grotesque Gothic material in the writer’s biography.
Raised in a family prone to melancholy, madness and consumption, hyper-imaginative young Edgar Poe, played mostly in mime by limber Scott Shpeley, experiences enough darkness and disappointment to motivate a lifetime of horror stories and bitter poetry. Poe’s tale is sung in rhyme by a variety of narrators and a chorus, who also play all the other parts in his life: Shannon Blanchet, Sheldon Elter, Beth Graham, Ryan Parker, Garret Ross, and Vanessa Sabourin. All have fine singing voices, none better than Shpeley’s sweet tenor. Their stylized movement, choreographed by Laura Krewski, is a pleasure to watch as they play in front of and behind Gerecke’s set of sliding screens, in her wonderfully wacky black and white costumes, across her starkly lit stage. Wade Staples’ voluminous sound effects add another dimension to their world.
I found all this quite delightful for an act, but was disappointed when the second act turned out to be just more of the same. Unlike Frankenstein with its great classic story, Christenson’s psychobiography of Poe has little dramatic shape or build. My one complaint about Christenson’s Frankenstein was that it lacked restraint, felt too long. Ditto for Nevermore, which also suffers from its insistently ironic tone and banal rhymes, all too reminiscent of Dr. Seuss: not really the appropriate vehicle for a tale of Gothic horror and woe.
Everyone else I know who has seen this show has loved it. I admired it. But when I ask myself whether this Catalyst piece lives up to the lofty standard set by their production of Frankenstein, the answer I hear is the Raven’s.